State Officers Worried About Possible IBM Lay-offs

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(Host) There’s more concern that computer giant IBM may trim its workforce. IBM is the state’s largest private employer. Recent reports that it may lay off 8,000 workers has prompted Governor Howard Dean to call a meeting next week with top company officials.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) IBM trimmed 500 jobs at its Essex plant last November. Now workers are worried that more cuts are on the way.

The employees point to several warning signs. Last month, IBM President Samuel Palmisano told employees in an internal message that the company would be forced to pare back its operations world-wide. Then on Friday, the Wall Street Journal quoted a company insider who said IBM plans to lay off 8,000 people, or about 2.5% of its workforce.

Jeff Couture, the spokesman for IBM’s Vermont operations, says he can’t comment on the reports:

(Couture) “There are some stories that have appeared in the press that cite either rumors or unnamed sources talking about or projecting that there could be layoffs and what the numbers could be. But IBM has not made any announcement concerning its staffing…. It doesn’t mean we’re either confirming or denying. Our policy is not to comment either way.”

(Dillon) The talk of layoffs worries state officials. IBM is the economic engine for northwest Vermont and it provides over 7,000 well-paying jobs. A spokesman for Governor Howard Dean says the governor will meet next week with top company officials to discuss the situation.

Commerce Secretary Molly Lambert says she takes the rumors seriously. She’s also trying to learn more:

(Lambert) “At this point we are dealing with rumors. There is no solid information that I have been given from my contacts at the plant about any employment decisions at this time. … Obviously we’re very, very concerned.”

(Dillon) IBM workers are also nervous. One employee at the Essex plant said everyone is talking about more lay-offs but no one has hard information. Linda Guyer is president of the IBM employees union in Endicott, New York. The alliance represents some workers in Vermont:

(Guyer) “The reaction is that people are afraid, they’re kind of paralyzed. They’re not sure what’s going to happen. It’s an atmosphere of secrecy and fear. And some people are working on their resumes, trying to already look for a new job even though they don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”

(Dillon) The union says that some workers have been quietly told that their jobs are about to eliminated. IBM won’t comment on these reports.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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